Team China became World Champions on 26th July 2018, after a knife-edge 5-4 victory over Team India in the Grand Final of the 2018 World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) in Zagreb, Croatia. It was a historic achievement for China and their coach, Mr Loke Wing Fatt, as they became the first new winners of the competition since Singapore in 2011 and only the ninth country overall to be champions of the world.
Four of the five members of this World Champion team trained with the LearningLeaders program. Linden Li, Brian Li, Evan Shen and Matt Song began their debate journey just three years prior to WSDC 2018 and for them to climb to the pinnacle of world debating in such a short time – and, moreover, all to have ranked in the top five individual speakers worldwide – was a staggering accomplishment that they should be proud of for the rest of their lives.
In addition, the individual performances of all five of the Team China members were outstanding. Among them, Linden Li, Evan Shen, Brian Li, and Matt Song won the second to fifth best individual debaters among the more than 300 participating debaters, while the captain, Stone Yang was in the EFL (English as Foreign Language) group.
The team had a long march to the final stages of the competition. Among the 65 national teams competing, Team China ranked ninth with six wins and two losses. In the knockout round, the Chinese team defeated Estonia 3-0 and Pakistan 4-1 before meeting Australia and England, probably the two most successful nations in the history of this event, in quarters and semis.
They defeated Australia 6-1 and then England 7-0 to advance to the finals. Of the fourteen experienced adjudicators that judged those two knockout rounds, an aggregate of thirteen voted for China with just one ballot against. It was a staggering display of dominance from a country that had been to one solitary WSDC quarterfinal in its history prior to that year. With those victories, they advanced to meet Team India in the WSDC Grand Final.
Historical Facts About the Finals
1) From 1988 to 1999, in the first 11 years of WSDC, only 6 national teams won the championship, namely Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, England, the United States and Australia. In the 21st Century, only two "new" national teams had become World Champions; Ireland and Singapore. China thus became just the ninth national team to win the championship in the 30-year history of WSDC.
2) Both China and India had reached the quarter-finals of the WSDC once before, China in 2014 and India in 2017, but both teams failed to advance to the semi-finals. In this year's quarter-finals, the two teams not only advanced at the same time, but also defeated the former world champions, namely England and Singapore, in the semi-finals to advance to the finals.
3) 2018 marked the first time in the history of WSDC that both finalists came from countries where English is spoken as a second language, following on from Team Pakistan achieving runners-up status in 1994 and 1996. It was undoubtedly of epoch-making significance for WSDC and blazed a trail for the rise of Asian teams in the tournament - with Team India going on to lift the crown the following year, 2019.
At the Finals
The final was held at the historic Europa Theater in Zagreb. A capacity crowd was packed into the venue to witness a small piece of debating history.
As is tradition at WSDC, the Grand Final was contested on a prepared motion: This House believes that the West should end all arms sales and military cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Team China were drawn on the Opposition - arguably the harder side of the draw, since the Government team would have the moral high ground as they argued against Western complicity in civilian deaths in the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemeni Houthi forces.
The final judging panel consists of nine judges from New Zealand, Pakistan, South Korea, Mexico, Croatia, Denmark, Malaysia, Qatar and South Africa, each with one vote to vote for the final champion.
After an outstanding - and close - debate, the judges retired to consider their verdict for what seemed like hours. As the Chief Adjudicator announced that the final vote of the nine judges was a 5-4 split, the tension was almost unbearable. The roar of victory when China's win was announced could almost be heard back home!
After the debate, Sayeqa Islam, the head coach of the Indian team, said that it was a pity to miss the championship by one vote, but she admired our team nonetheless. "Team China, you rock my world!"
Behind the Championship Run
It was a long road to the championship, and the celebratory dinner after the Final went on late into the night.
In a sense, though, the road for Linden, Brian, Evan and Matt was far longer than that. That road runs through the NSDA regional tournament in Shanghai where they learned to hone their research skills and their competitive spirit, and the CNSDC tournament in Chengdu where they were named Chinese national champions earlier in 2018. It runs through places like Stuttgart in Germany and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where they (and their coaches!) felt the sting of defeat in a major championship final, but also the Prague Debate Spring tournament prior to WSDC which the team won, gaining valuable momentum going into the biggest tournament of all.
Most of all, it runs through the twice-weekly LearningLeaders Elite program debate training that they showed up to, rain or shine, a great example to the other students in our program of where hard work and dedication can take you.
So, in another sense, the road also runs through the Seoul Open, the Beijing Debate Challenge, the Stanford and Berkeley tournaments, the regional Public Forum debate competitions, the Cambridge Asia BP championships, our own internal mini-tournaments, and all the other competitions, workshops and events that LearningLeaders students across all grades participate in, every month of the year. The road runs through all the coaches doing their small part to nurture these talents every week, all the way back through the seventh graders taking our Novice Debate class.
Ultimately, it starts with the families who are willing to put their trust and faith in us to teach their children in the right way without taking short cuts, and help them develop these crucial skills of communication, critical thinking and self-expression that are so important in today’s world.
As the national team coach Mr. Loke noted in the days following the conclusion of WSDC 2018, it takes a village to coach a team like Team China, and we are proud to have played - and to continue to play - our small part in that community.
Linden, Brian, Evan and Matt, as well as team captain Stone, have all now moved on to top universities in the United States. We look forward to helping to train the next generation of World Champions to follow in their footsteps - wherever they come from.